Book Review: Pawmistry: Unlocking the Secret of the Universe with Cats by Megan Lynn Kott

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: October 12th, 2021
Pages: 112, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Pawmistry is a tongue-in-cheek guide to the feline oracle and the supernatural signs your cat may leave behind. Written and illustrated by the beloved creator of Cat Tarot Megan Lynn Kott, this playful and informative book offers instruction in a number of types of divination to practice with your cat, where messages and portents may be delivered by scattered cat toys, particular tail positions, and sleeping on your face. What does that barf in your shoe really mean? You may even consider learning the dark magic of their litterbox leavings (if you dare). Each section includes write-in pages to record your own cat’s messages from the universe, and a removable, fold-out Feline Divination Board included with the book will allow you to take your arcane partnership to the next level.

Cats are mysterious, and in Megan Lynn Knott’s book, Pawmistry, they are mystical and magical, too. By using the methods in this book, you and your cat may be able to unlock the secrets of the universe…if your cat so chooses.

There are sections for divining and scrying via toys, toe beans/paws, leftover food, and, ew, scat. I personally think that section should come with a toxoplasmosis warning, and I don’t know that there’s a secret, short of unified field theory, that I want to know that badly.

The watercolor illustrations are beautiful, and add to the whimsy of the subject matter. I especially liked the flowchart that will help you find a mystical cat. Again, no promises that the cat will be cooperative.

I felt some of the methods were a little silly, and, in the case of the litter box scrying, possibly unhealthy. Much of the content was material found in many other places that have general information about cats, but it’s nice to have it organized in one place, and again, the illustrations make this book worth a look. 

Book Review: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Non-fiction Biography
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: April 18th, 2021
Pages: 608, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

In the first major biography of Bonhoeffer in forty years, “New York Times” best-selling author Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer’s life―the theologian and the spy―to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. In a deeply moving narrative, Metaxas uses previously unavailable documents―including personal letters, detailed journal entries, and firsthand personal accounts―to reveal dimensions of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology never before seen.

Around fifteen years ago, I watched a wonderful documentary about Bonhoeffer on PBS. I was intrigued by this Lutheran theologian who defied the Nazis. His integrity, his struggle with the nationalism and racism he witnessed both in his home country of Germany and in the United States, and his sincere desire to share his message of faith and salvation came shining through. While I may not agree with some of his theological points, I admire his actions during WWII.

This is not that Bonhoeffer, at least not entirely. The Bonhoeffer we meet in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is a creation of Eric Metaxas, taking specific writings of Bonhoeffer and filtering them through his personal lens of evangelicalism. Metaxas has a passion for Bonhoeffer bordering on idolatry, and that’s a problem in a biographer. Metaxas has little understanding of the social and economic influences during Bonhoeffer’s life, and dismisses the prevalence of anti-Semitism.

He also does not curate the work well. Much of the book is a data dump of Bonhoeffer’s works, with entire letters filling multiple chapters.

It’s a disappointment. It’s not the first biography I’ve read written by someone with an axe to grind, but it’s a shame it happened to the story of this wonderful theologian.

Book Review: Cat Tales: True Stories of Fantastic Felines by Penelope Rich, Isabel Muñoz (Illustrator)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Arcturus Publishing
Publication Date: April 1st, 2021
Pages: 96, paperback
Source: NetGalley

Cats may love snoozing in sunny spots, but our furry friends are capable of so much more! In this beautifully illustrated full-colour collection, you’ll discover the incredible true stories of talented, brave, and clever kitties whose exploits have made them world-famous.

This heart-warming book includes over 40 cat stories, from ancient Egyptian kitties to internet sensations Grumpy Cat and Bob the Streetcat. These tales are bought to life by remarkable illustrations by Isabel Muñoz.

Find out all about:
• Gracie from Reedsburg, Wisconsin, who saved her owners from a carbon monoxide leak
• Tama, the station master cat of Kinokawa, Japan
• Masha, the stray cat who rescued an abandoned baby on a freezing night in Caluga, Russia
• Stubbs, the feline mayor for Talkeetna, Alaska …
• and so many more!

You may already know Bob the Street Cat and Grumpy Cat, now it’s time to meet Masha, Tama, Mayor Stubbs, and over thirty other completely clever cats. In Cat Tales, by Penelope Rich, there are forty profiles of famous, and not-so-famous felines from ancient history to modern day internet sensations. 

Some of the stories are inspiring, and all are interesting. Cats were domesticated more recently than dogs, but there are more cats in households in the U.S. than dogs, and it’s easy to see why from these vignettes. The illustrations by Isabel Muñoz perfectly complement the tales. (The drawing of Masha is my favorite.)

From soldier cats to sailor cats to nanny cats, and all cats in between, this is a great book for not only its target audience of middle graders, but adults.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: Simply Quantum Physics by D.K. Publishing

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: D.K. Publishing
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2021
Pages: 160, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

A clear, simple, graphic-led introduction to quantum physics.

Are you short of time but hungry for knowledge? This beginner’s quantum physics book proves that sometimes less is more. Bold graphics and easy-to-understand explanations make it the most accessible guide to quantum physics on the market.

This smart but powerful guide cuts through the jargon and gives you the facts in a clear, visual way. Step inside the strange and fascinating world of subatomic physics that at times seems to conflict with common sense. Unlock the mysteries of more than 100 key ideas, from quantum mechanics basics to the uncertainty principle and quantum tunneling.

Each pared-back, single-page entry demystifies the groundbreaking ideas in modern science. From Schroedinger’s Cat and quantum teleportation to atoms and gravity, Simply Quantum Physics is the ultimate jargon-free overview of the subject.

It’s hard to go wrong with a DK book. They’re always informative and wonderfully illustrated. In Simply Quantum Physics, DK give us bite-sized (quark-sized?) bits about a complex subject. Most of the easily-grasped concepts take only a page, and build on each other, in a very readable format.

The only quibble I have, and it’s a minor one, is the ordering of some of the snippets. For example, they state a couple of times that you can’t know momentum and direction both with accuracy, but don’t discuss the Uncertainty Principle until several pages later. 

This book serves as a great refresher for anyone who has taken some advanced science courses, or for someone who wants a taste of what’s out there after getting some basic science classes under their belt. It’s also a nice reference for someone who runs into a concept while reading, say, a SF novel, and wants just a brief blurb about it.

Book Review: The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free by Paulina Bren

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March 2nd, 2021
Pages: 336, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

From award-winning author Paulina Bren comes the first history of New York’s most famous residential hotel—The Barbizon—and the remarkable women who lived there.


Liberated from home and hearth by World War I, politically enfranchised and ready to work, women arrived to take their place in the dazzling new skyscrapers of Manhattan. But they did not want to stay in uncomfortable boarding houses. They wanted what men already had—exclusive residential hotels with daily maid service, cultural programs, workout rooms, and private dining.

Built in 1927 at the height of the Roaring Twenties, the Barbizon Hotel was intended as a safe haven for the “Modern Woman” seeking a career in the arts. It became the place to stay for any ambitious young woman hoping for fame and fortune. Sylvia Plath fictionalized her time there in The Bell Jar, and, over the years, its almost 700 tiny rooms with matching floral curtains and bedspreads housed Titanic survivor Molly Brown; actresses Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Ali MacGraw, Jaclyn Smith, Phylicia Rashad, and Cybill Shepherd; writers Joan Didion, Diane Johnson, Gael Greene, and Meg Wolitzer; and many more. Mademoiselle magazine boarded its summer interns there, as did Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School its students and the Ford Modeling Agency its young models. Before the hotel’s residents were household names, they were young women arriving at the Barbizon with a suitcase and a dream.

Not everyone who passed through the Barbizon’s doors was destined for success—for some it was a story of dashed hopes—but until 1981, when men were finally let in, the Barbizon offered its residents a room of their own and a life without family obligations or expectations. It gave women a chance to remake themselves however they pleased; it was the hotel that set them free. No place had existed like it before or has since.

Beautifully written and impeccably researched, The Barbizon weaves together a tale that has, until now, never been told. It is both a vivid portrait of the lives of these young women who came to New York looking for something more, and an epic history of women’s ambition. 

Paulina Bren states in her introduction to The Barbizon – The Hotel That Set Women Free that there wasn’t a lot of source material about the hotel. About twenty percent of the book is acknowledgements and references, but it’s true, very little is about the hotel itself.

The book is focused more on the women who lived at the Barbizon over the decades, and how society and culture changed both the women and the hotel. The book covers from the late 20’s to the 80’s, and features residents such as Grace Kelly, Joan Didion, and Sylvia Plath. There’s a LOT of Sylvia in the book, possibly because there was more source material on her than many of the others.

Bren also talks in-depth about the relationship between the Barbizon and businesses, such as Mademoiselle magazine, the Katharine Gibbs College, both of which gave women jobs and opportunities they hadn’t had before, just as the Barbizon gave them a safe, but less-restrictive environment in which to live.

There’s a lot of material, and most of it was interesting, but there’s a fair amount of jumping around, and different decades are sometimes referenced in the same chapter without a clear indicator of what is happening when. I would still recommend this to anyone interested in women’s history and women in the workforce in the 20th Century.

Book Review: The Story of Climate Change by Catherine Barr, Steve Williams, & Amy Husband

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Children’s non-fiction
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Publication Date: March 2nd, 2021
Pages: 40, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

The Story of Climate Change is a wonderful way to introduce young readers to one of the most important issues facing our world today.
Combining history with science, this book charts the changes in our Earth’s climate, from the beginnings of the planet and its atmosphere, to the Industrial revolution and the dawn of machinery. Kids will learn all about the causes of climate change, such as factory farming and pollution, and the effects that climate change has on humans and animals across the world.
As well as discovering the causes and effects of global warming, readers will discover practical ways we can work together to solve it, from using renewable energy to swapping meat for vegetables in our diet.
With fact-packed text by Catherine Barr and vibrant illustrations by Amy Husband and Mike Love, The Story of Climate Change will give kids the information they need to make a change and do their part to fight the climate emergency!

The Story of Climate Change, by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, is a grade-school picture book about man-made effects on the climate and environment. It’s geared toward helping younger children understand the issue and gives positive steps children and their parents can take toward helping reduce their impact on the environment.

The illustrations and colorful and engaging, and the narrative moves along at a good clip. We dispense of the 65-million-year period between the Chicxulub impactor and Victorian times in one page, with the authors letting us know that humans didn’t really affect the environment on a large scale until the Industrial Revolution.

While the book is geared toward young children and the message is to provide information and steps they can take, a small mention of the impact of larger industry on the environment might have been useful, as well. 


Book Review: The Raven’s Hat by Jonas Peters, Nicolai Meinshausen, Malte Meinshausen (Illustrations)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021
Pages: 192, paperback
Source: NetGalley

Games that show how mathematics can solve the apparently unsolvable.

This book presents a series of engaging games that seem unsolvable–but can be solved when they are translated into mathematical terms. How can players find their ID cards when the cards are distributed randomly among twenty boxes? By applying the theory of permutations. How can a player guess the color of her own hat when she can only see other players’ hats? Hamming codes, which are used in communication technologies. Like magic, mathematics solves the apparently unsolvable. The games allow readers, including university students or anyone with high school-level math, to experience the joy of mathematical discovery.

Don’t be fooled by the beguiling, opera-singing, card-playing, hat-wearing ravens in The Raven’s Hat. Authors Jonas Peters and Nicolai Meinshausen have crafted a serious mathematical puzzle book.

The book posits different game scenarios where the ravens have to figure out something based on incomplete information gleaned by observing their fellow ravens. For example, the ravens have to figure out what color hat each raven is wearing, but they can only see the hats which are in front of them. None of the ravens can see the last raven’s hat. The authors do guide the reader through the process of figuring the various puzzles, but this is not a book for someone casually interested in math or mathematical games. If it’s been a while since you’ve had a higher math class, or the phrase “binomial coefficient” causes you a vague sense of dread, this isn’t the book for you.

It is, however, thorough, and enjoyable in places. The raven illustrations by Malte Meinshausen are engaging, and kept me entertained through the detailed explanations and formulae, some of which I admit, frankly lost me, or maybe were just so detailed that I stopped caring what the solution was.

Recommended for math lovers, but not the layperson.